Counsell not yet ready to call Feliz “closer”

PHOENIX — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell addressed reporters Monday at Maryvale Baseball Park, but wasn’t yet ready to hand over the keys to the “closer” position for newcomer Neftali Feliz.

“Neftali is going to get really important outs for us,” Counsell said. “That’s what we signed him to do.”

Perhaps that’s Counsell’s politically-correct approach to allowing competition this spring, but so far, no other candidates have stuck out as legitimate replacements for Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith.

Feliz was signed to a one-year, $5.35 million guaranteed contract on Jan. 19 after failing to reach a multi-year extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates in November. The 28-year-old 2010 AL Rookie of the Year posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.137 WHIP with the Pirates last season.

“He’s got a track record, Counsell said. “What we saw last year was him getting back to the player that broke into the big leagues and was really a dynamic arm and reliever, and capable of great things.”

Feliz is no stranger to pitching in late innings, but after the Texas Rangers tried to convert him to a starter in the 2012 season, he injured his throwing arm and underwent Tommy John surgery which kept him out for the entire 2013 season.

It’s possible Counsell doesn’t want to bank on Feliz’ resurgence in 2016 as means that he’ll be able to last an entire season in Milwaukee as the closer. But with no other real options at this point in spring training, it would appear it’s just a matter of time before Counsell makes the label official.

Brewers sign free agent reliever Neftalί Feliz

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Brewers have signed free agent right-handed reliever Neftali Feliz to a one-year contract.

“We are excited to add a pitcher with Neftalί’s stuff to the back end of our bullpen,” said Brewers General Manager David Stearns. “Neftalί has a long pedigree of getting high leverage outs, and we believe he has the capability to help anchor our young relief corps.”

Feliz, 28, owns a career record of 19-14 with a 3.22 ERA and 99 saves in 308 games (7 starts) during his Major League career with Texas (2009-15), Detroit (2015) and Pittsburgh (2016). He went 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 2 saves in 62 relief appearances for the Pirates last season.

The 2010 American League Rookie of the Year produced 40 saves that season, which ranks second all-time among rookies behind only Craig Kimbrel (46 for Atlanta in 2011). He followed that campaign with a 32-save season in 2011. Feliz was the closer for the Rangers during their consecutive American League championship seasons of 2010 and 2011. His 88.9 save percentage during those seasons (72-for-81) ranked sixth in the Major Leagues.

Feliz has held opponents to a .202 batting average during his Major League career with 326 strikeouts in 343.1 innings pitched.

Courtesy: Milwaukee Brewers